How to Teach your Dog to Look at the Camera and Become the Best Dog Photo Model

Darwing dog and clapboard

Your social media feeds are a parade of Instafamous canines and many of the pooches pose looking at the camera like they were born dog models. If you struggle to obtain the same results with your dog, because of he/she loses interest, turns away, gives an unimpressed look or runs after the cat, this is for you. In this post we reveal three secret tricks you can use to teach your dog to look straight to the camera, wait in position and get ready to become the best dog photo model, while having fun.

(Not) born a dog photo model

Boston terrier sitting on owner's lap posing as dog photo model
Darwin the boston terrier with Grainne

A few weeks ago I was involved in a studio photoshoot with the 10 office dogs of creative agency DTV (my first studio experience  and in exchange of which DTV made a generous donation to dog charity All Dogs Matter), some of whom I had already met and photographed for their feature in the Office Dog Series.

The Creative Director of DTV had warned me that the dogs were not trained photo models and, being full of beans, they wouldn’t stay still for long. For this reason, before the day, I asked each owner to assess their dogs’ likes and bring three types of rewards of different value to use during the shoot. The idea was to start photographing each dog using the lowest reward (in order not to wire them up too much, but getting to the point of gaining their attention) and, playing it by ear, then work up through the scale at need. But not all went according to the plan…

Bo the dog scared of flash with his owner
Bo and Kristen

In fact, while Penny turned out to be the real super star and keenest dog model (you can see her photo further below in this post, when she was modelling as “dogrector” on a director’s chair) – as she posed also when it was not required -, rescue mutt Bo was utterly terrified by the effect of the flash heads we used.

He didn’t want to know anything about getting anywhere near that infinite white scary place, and not even a Hansel and Gretel trail of succulent treats seemed to persuade him. In the end he just tolerated a few shots been taken with his owner Kristen, but, still, he was definitely not impressed. Dude the Black Labrador made some big runs too, but he was won over by the promise of some food, although he found quite illogical to be asked to wait far from the source of the interesting smell in order to be fed.

3 tricks for the perfect dog pose

Pedro the mutt looks at the camera with an ear up and an ear down
Pedro

The three main challenges for a dog during a photoshoot? Staying in position, looking at the camera (or to another specific point of your choice) and getting to terms with flash light.

“Staying is boring” would say a lively dog if they could speak. So it is in your hands to give them a good reason for doing it, and this shouldn’t involve shouting commands with a minacious voice. Are treats and toys of help? Definitely, but… you may find yourself struggling with some collateral effects. For instance, you could turn your dog into an overexcited bundle of energy whose only thought is to run to your hand to get the treat/toy and wonder off again, so you can forget about having enough time to shoot that photo you were looking for…

So what are the tricks for your dog to master photo modelling?

We had a chat with renowned dog trainer Kamal Fernandez – who was also involved in teaching a dog to fly a plane in Sky’s tv show Dogs Might Fly – to bring you 3 games you can play with your dog to tackle the main challenges for snapping your perfect pic. The best thing? It is that these tricks are also great exercises for reinforcing the bond with your dog, providing them with mental stimulation and adding to their training in general! So definitely you don’t need to aim at Instagram stardom to use them.

How to get your dog to stay in position

Girl looks at a small dog on her lap while sitting on a chair for a dog photoshoot
Eddie and Sophie

Since one of the main challenges for a dog can be to wait in position, it is essential to work with them towards mastering a solid stay.

#1. Teaching a reliable stay

“Teaching your dog to stay is a huge asset for life in general, but never more crucial then taking a great selfie or a really cute pic!” says Kamal. “So when you start off teaching your dog to stay, start off really brief and not too far away. You can ask your dog to sit or down, and initially ask for just a few seconds.

“Once they can do this, extend the time but remain close to them. Imagine there is a hula hoop around them. When you start teaching a stay, you want to remain in that hoop. Don’t try and extend the time and distance at the same time, as this will cause confusion and mistakes. Do either time, or distance away from your dog.

“When you reward, always return back to the dog and feed them whilst they remain in position.

“When you want them to move, or end your session, use a distinct word or cue. ‘Break’, ‘free’, ‘release’, ‘ok’, ‘all done’… are examples of words to use. Ensure you are consistent when you release your dog, and use this word only. ‘Good dog’ or the dog’s name are not good release cues as we want to be able to praise them or use their name to get attention without them moving.”

Penny the dog on her dogrector's chair during the dogs photoshoot
Penny the “dogrector”

#2. Self control

Another game that you can find of help is the one called ‘Its Yer Choice’ (originally developed by Canadian dog trainer Susan Garrett) and works to strenghten your dog’s self control. Kamal explains how it works.

“For this game you will need some treats your dog LOVES. Initially start in an area that isn’t too enticing for your dog and it may help to use a lead. The objective of the guide is to place a treat on the floor in front of your dog, and them remain in position!

Step 1: Have your dog in a sit on one side of your body. You want to be facing forward with your dog on one side of you. Because I am right handed, I will have my dog on my left hand side.
Use your treat to guide your dog into a sit, if they know sit already there isn’t any need to say it. Try not to say ‘leave’, ‘no’ or anything similar. We want the dog to figure this out for themselves.

Step 2: Have a treat in both hands. Try to place it on the ground with the hand furthest away from the dog. The idea of having your dog on one side, is that you have a fair chance to intervene if they make a dash for it. If they do as you lower your hand, stand up again and feed the dog from the opposing hand. The idea is that one hand is ‘tempting’ the dog by placing treats on the floor, whilst the other is the ‘good’ hand, rewarding the dog for sitting.

Step 3: Once your dog dog understands this, you can make the challenges harder and also move away from the dog, each time keeping consistent with rewarding the dog from one hand and not the other.

Step 4: You can intermittently release the dog to get the treat on the floor, with a release word like ‘break’, ‘release’, ‘all done’.”

Get your dog to look at the camera

Dog model Albie with man on a chair, looking at the camera
Albie and Tim

A very obvious way to have your dog looking at the camera (or phone) is to hold something he/she is interested in just above/below/on the side of the camera. This can be a squeaky toy, a treat or anything your dog loves. However, if your dog loses interest quickly when he/she doesn’t get the toy or treat right away, there is a trick you can use.

“Teaching your dog to look at you when you ask is a great ‘trick’ in order to take a great picture!” explains Kamal. “Simply start with a whole load of treats, and use a distinct word or sound and within one second give them a treat. You can make a noise, say a word or phrase.

“Do this a dozen or so times, until you see your dog ‘reacting’ when you say the word. Once you have this response, you can vary how you give the dog the treat. You can say your word and feed from your hand, you can say your word and throw it to them so they can catch the treat, or you can say your word and extend the time before you give them a treat. This creates a longer pause which gives you a little more time to capture that great picture!”

So flash!

Dog looking at the camera during photoshoot
Fred

One last thing to keep in mind in case you are photographing dogs in a studio is flash light. Flash can be scary for dogs, so before starting give them the chance to get used to the noise of the flash heads and the sudden light, without putting them under the pressure of also asking them to do something. Feeding them and having a good game with them while very casually firing the flash and not giving it any importance like it was an absolutely normal thing is a good idea. This will make everything much easier!

You will now be able to take advantage of a reliable stay, a way to catch their attention and a relaxed dog who doesn’t freak out for the flash. So you are all set and ready to have fun with your dog while you make them the next top dog model or finally get something more than your dog’s tail in your family photos!


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you can also find the dogs of DTV @dogsofDTV


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